They Inherited Billions Upon Billions: Meet America’s Richest Heirs

One of them, Rob Walton, just led a family group to bid $4.65 billion for the Denver Broncos NFL team. Here are the other heirs that rank the highest on Forbes’ list.

By Jemima McEvoy

A shock ran through the sporting world last week when a group led by Walmart heir Rob Walton won the bidding war for the Denver Broncos NFL team with a $4.65 billion offer. The eye-popping sum made the deal the most expensive sports team purchase in history and turned a spotlight on the man at the center of it all: the typically low-profile Walton. The eldest son of Walmart founder Sam Walton, he inherited his fortune and served as Walmart’s chairman for 23 years. Now worth $57.2 billion, he is the 15th richest person in America and the fifth richest U.S. heir.

A handful of Rob Walton’s relatives are among America’s richest people as well. Founded in 1962 by Sam and his brother James “Bud” Walton, Walmart, the country’s largest retailer, is still about half owned by members of the family. Seven have fortunes of $10 billion or more, including Sam Walton’s three living children–Rob, Jim and Alice—and grandson Lukas. (The eighth Walmart billionaire, Christy Walton, the widow of Sam’s late son John, is worth an estimated $7 billion.)

Tremendous family wealth is a hallmark of Forbes’ list of the country’s richest people, though many billionaire heirs hail from just a handful of companies. One such company is agriculture giant Cargill, the largest private company in the country, which has propelled 12 heirs into the three comma club. The great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren of founder W. W. Cargill still own nearly 90% of the business he founded in 1865.

Other businesses where the spoils of success have trickled down the generations include the Wisconsin-based cleaning products manufacturer SC Johnson–known for brands like Windex, Off and Pledge–and Mars, the candy and pet food empire started by Frank Mars in 1911. The four great-great-grandchildren of Samuel Curtis Johnson–H. Fisk Johnson, Helen Johnson-Leipold, S. Curtis Johnson and Winifred J. Marquart–collectively own a majority of the private company and are worth an estimated $3.1 billion each, while six of founder Mars’ grandchildren and great-grandchildren are billionaires, worth between $7.4 billion and $29.7 billion, Forbes estimates.

Some of these heirs took control of businesses they inherited and radically transformed them. Charles Koch and his three brothers inherited most of a vastly smaller Koch Industries when their father, Fred, died in 1967. (Charles and his brother David (d. 2019) bought out the stakes of their two brothers, Frederick and Bill, for $1.1 billion in 1983.) Charles has run the company since the death of his father, orchestrating the $13 billion acquisition of Georgia Pacific in 2005 and the estimated $13 billion purchase of cloud software firm Infor in 2020, among others. Charles Koch appeared on the first Forbes 400 list of richest Americans in 1982 with a net worth of $266 million. Forbes now pegs his fortune at just under $60 billion. Rupert Murdoch inherited two Australian newspapers when his father died–and with those started a media empire that has grown to include Fox News, arguably the most influential cable TV network in the U.S.

Together the country’s 20 richest billionaire heirs (technically there are 23 because several are tied at number 20) are worth $568 billion. That’s about 13.5% of the $4.2 trillion in wealth of all 701 U.S. billionaires, according to Forbes’ estimates. Here’s a look at who they are and where their money comes from. (Net worths are as of Thursday, June 16.)

#1 (tie): Charles Koch

Net worth: $59.6 billion | Source of wealth: Koch Industries

Koch and his late brother David (d. 2019) inherited Koch Industries from their father Fred, who founded it in 1940 as an oil-and-refinery company. The brothers grew it into the second largest private company in the U.S. with an estimated $115 billion in revenues diversifying into pipelines, chemicals, Dixie cups and more recently cloud software. Koch, a staunch libertarian who donates generously to Republican political candidates, has been chairman and CEO of Koch Industries since 1967.

#1 (tie): Julia Koch

Net worth: $59.6 billion | Source of wealth: Koch Industries

The wife of the late David Koch–brother of Charles Koch–became one of the richest people in the world when he died in 2019 at age 79. She and her three children—David Jr., Mary Julia and John—inherited David’s 42% stake in Koch Industries. Julia Koch, age 60, sits on the board of directors of Koch Industries and focuses on philanthropy as president of the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation.

#3: Jim Walton

Net worth: $58.3 billion | Source of wealth: Walmart

The youngest son of Sam Walton owns an estimated 13% stake in the retailer his father founded in 1962. He served on Walmart’s board of directors for more than a decade before handing the job off to his son, Steuart, in 2016. Now, the 74-year-old Walton serves as chairman of the family-owned Arvest Bank, which says it has $26 billion in assets.

#4: Alice Walton

Net worth: $57.5 billion | Source of wealth: Walmart

Though she’s one of the biggest beneficiaries of the family’s retail empire, Sam Walton’s only daughter (dubbed the “misfit” of the heirs in a 2013 Forbes profile) has steered mostly clear of working for the family business–when she was younger she held several positions at Walmart but never held any senior roles. She’s instead dedicated her time to passions like horse breeding and art collecting, opening the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in her hometown of Bentonville, Arkansas in 2011.

#5: Rob Walton

Net worth: $57.2 billion | Source of wealth: Walmart

The eldest of the Walmart founder’s children took over as chairman when his father died in 1992. The retailer grew from about 2,000 stores and 271,000 employees that year to 11,000 stores and more than 2.3 million employees in 2015, when he stepped down as chairman. He was replaced by his son-in-law, Greg Penner, who is part of the group slated to purchase the Denver Broncos; Walton still serves on the Walmart board of directors.

#6: MacKenzie Scott

Net worth: $30.7 billion | Source of wealth: Amazon

Scott, formerly known as MacKenzie Bezos, became a billionaire in 2019 when Amazon founder Jeff Bezos transferred her a quarter of his 78.8 million shares as part of their divorce settlement, one of the largest in history. She has since given away about a quarter of her shares, donating $12 billion to charitable causes at a pace faster than any billionaire in modern times, Forbes estimated in April.

#7 (tie): John Mars

Net worth: $29.7 billion | Source of wealth: Candy, pet food

John, now 86, and his siblings Jacqueline and Forrest Jr. (d. 2016) each inherited an estimated one-third of the candy firm started by their grandfather Frank Mars in 1911 after their father Forrest Mars Sr.died in 1999. John and Forrest Jr. , who were co-presidents of the company starting in 1975, oversaw its expansion into a diversified global empire spanning sweets, pet food and chewing gum.

#7 (tie): Jacqueline Mars

Net worth: $29.7 billion | Source of wealth: Candy, pet food

Jacqueline Mars worked at the family candy and pet food company for nearly 20 years and served on its board of directors before retiring in 2016; her son, Stephen Badger, was chairman of the board until 2020. Like her brothers John and Forrest, Jr. (d. 2016) she inherited an estimated one third of Mars after their father Forrest Sr. died in 1999. Prominent in the equestrian world, she owns a Virginia horse farm that has trained Olympic medalists.

#9: Miriam Adelson

Net worth: $25.1 billion | Source of wealth: Casinos

Adelson inherited her late husband Sheldon’s gambling empire after he died in January 2021 at age 87. The 76-year-old owns 52% of New York Stock Exchange-listed Las Vegas Sands, which has casinos in Singapore and Macao. In February it completed the $6.25 billion sale of The Venetian Resort in Las Vegas to private equity firm Apollo Global Management and real estate investment trust VICI Properties. Shares of Las Vegas Sands have lost 40% of their value in the past year.

#10: Leonard Lauder

Net worth: $20.7 billion | Source of wealth: Estée Lauder

Lauder owns about 20% of the cosmetics giant founded in 1946 by his parents, Estée and Joseph Lauder. He ran the company as CEO for more than three decades, taking it public in 1995, before stepping down from that role in 1999. He’s now 89 and Estée Lauder’s chairman emeritus; his younger brother Ronald, age 78, is the chairman of Clinique Laboratories and also a billionaire.

#11: Abigail Johnson

Net worth: $18 billion | Source of wealth: Money management

The Fidelity Investments CEO and chair is the granddaughter of Edward C. Johnson II, who founded the Boston-based mutual fund giant back in 1946. She took over as chief executive from her father in 2016 and owns an estimated 24.6% stake in the firm, which has grown to have $4.3 trillion in managed assets.

#12: Rupert Murdoch

Net worth: $17.7 billion | Source of wealth: Media

The king of the media empire that includes Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post and U.K. tabloid The Sun, Murdoch inherited his first newspaper from his father, a war correspondent turned publisher, at age 22. He went on to build the family’s publishing business into News Corp., a $9 billion (market cap) television and newspaper behemoth. Murdoch sold most of Fox’s movie studio, cable channel FX, National Geographic Networks, its 30% stake in streaming service Hulu and its stake in Star India to Disney in March 2019 for $71.3 billion.

#13: Lukas Walton

Net worth: $14.6 billion | Source of wealth: Walmart

A grandson of Walmart cofounder Sam Walton, Lukas inherited his fortune when his father, John T. Walton, died in a plane crash in 2005. He received about one third of his father’s estate; his mother, Christy Walton (also a billionaire), got about one sixth. The 35-year-old does not hold any position in the family business; he invests in businesses taking on environmental and social challenges, and late last year reportedly launched a $300 million fund to do so.

#14: Laurene Powell Jobs

Net worth: $13.9 billion | Source of wealth: Apple, Disney

Powell Jobs inherited a fortune in Apple and Disney stock when her late husband, Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, died of cancer in 2011. With her billions she has bought stakes in The Atlantic magazine and sports teams, including the NBA’s Washington Wizards and the NHL’s Washington Capital. She also founded Emerson Collective, a social impact firm that mixes philanthropy and investment, and the Waverley Street Foundation, which reportedly funds climate change initiatives.

#15: Donald Newhouse

Net worth: $12.1 billion | Source of wealth: Media

From a single Staten Island newspaper, Newhouse’s father Sam built Advance Publications, the publishing and broadcasting empire that today includes the Condé Nast magazine group (owner of The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, among others) plus substantial stakes in WarnerBros. Discovery and social news site Reddit. The business wa split between Newhouse and his late brother Samuel, known as Si, (d. 2017), with Donald Newhouse in charge of its television and newspaper segment, and Si overseeing the magazine division. Today, Newhouse, age 92, shares the title of co-president with his son, Steven.

#16: Carl Cook

Net worth: $9.4 billion | Source of wealth: Medical devices

Cook took over his family’s medical device manufacturer after his father Bill died in 2011. His parents started the company, which sells catheters, dilators and more, out of their apartment in Bloomington, Indiana in 1963. It now does about $2.5 billion in sales annually.

#17: Herbert Kohler Jr.

Net worth: $8.8 billion | Source of wealth: Plumbing fixtures

The plumbing fixture powerhouse Kohler Co. was founded by Herb Kohler’s grandfather back in 1874, then the company manufactured hitching posts and farm tools. He took over from his father as CEO at age 32 and ran the company for more than four decades before handing it off to his son, David, in 2015; Herb, age 83, is executive chairman.

#18 (tie): Pauline MacMillan Keinath

Net worth: $8 billion | Source of wealth: Cargill

The wealthiest of the Cargill heirs, Keinath is believed to be the company’s largest shareholder, with an estimated 13% stake. She is a great-granddaughter of founder W. W. Cargill; her late brother, Whitney MacMillan (d: 2020) was the last family member to serve as the company’s CEO.

#18 (tie): Ann Walton Kroenke

Net worth: $8 billion | Source of wealth: Walmart

This Walmart heir inherited her stake in the retail giant from her late father, James “Bud” Walton, who helped his older brother Sam start Walmart back in 1962. Her husband Stanley Kroenke, a real estate and sports mogul, is also a billionaire worth an estimated $10.7 billion.

#20 (tie): Pamela Mars

Net worth: $7.4 billion | Source of wealth: Candy, pet food

Pamela, age 62, and her three sisters—Victoria, Valerie and Marijke—each inherited an estimated 8% stake in Mars when her father, Forrest Mars Jr., died in 2016 at age 84. She has had various roles at Mars and was chairman of its board of directors between 2004 and 2008. Currently she is the family’s ambassador to the company’s pet care division.

#20 (tie): Victoria Mars

Net worth: $7.4 billion | Source of wealth: Candy, pet food

The eldest daughter of Forrest Mars Jr., Victoria, age 65, worked at Mars for more than three decades and helped set up the company’s Ombudsman program, which provides a confidential avenue for employees to report workplace problems. She also took a turn as chairman of the board, serving from 2014 to 2017.

#20 (tie): Valerie Mars

Net worth: $7.4 billion | Source of wealth: Candy, pet food

Valerie, age 63, started working at Mars in 1992 and is now vice president of corporate development. She has a seat on the company’s board of directors, and sits on the board of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles as well.

#20 (tie): Marijke Mars

Net worth: $7.4 billion | Source of wealth: Candy, pet food

Forrest Mars Jr.’s youngest daughter, Marijke, age 57, also sits on the company’s board of directors. According to Bloomberg, she worked as a regional manager at Kal Kan Foods, one of Mars’ pet food companies, and now works at Mars Food, which oversees brands including Ben’s Original rice.

Via Forbes

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